The Families Together Project was a 5-year transformative project for schools in Antrim and Strabane. The project was led by Parenting NI in partnership with AMH New Life Counselling and with financial support from the National Lottery Community Fund. The project worked initially in six schools within Antrim and Strabane, including Sion Mills Primary School, Ballycraigy Primary School, Six Mile Integrated Primary School, Parkhall Primary School, St Catherine’s Primary School & St Mary’s Primary School. The project was also able to provide support for an additional 4 schools across the two areas. After five incredible years the project came to an close with an virtual ceremony, in which the Families Together parents were awarded with their OCN Certificates.
Parenting NI has been providing parenting services across Northern Ireland since 1979 in the belief that effective parenting is the cornerstone of strong families, and that parents should be supported to enable them to provide children with a positive upbringing.
AMH New Life Counselling is a professionally accredited counselling service and part of Action Mental Health. AMH New Life Counselling is committed to supporting the emotional health and wellbeing needs of its clients through the provision of counselling, providing friendly and professional counselling services for children, young people, adults and families.
Parents are a primary influence on their children and that influence can either be negative or positive depending on the quality of the parenting (Campbell, 1995).
The Families Together project was designed around these principles in order to holistically strengthen these relationships. Strabane and Antrim were selected as the two areas for the project because of the high level of disadvantage. Primary schools within the most disadvantaged parts of Strabane and Antrim were invited to become partner schools with Parenting NI and AMH New Life Counselling to form the Families Together Project.
Once a year, the Families Together Project would host a Family Fun Day in Antrim and Strabane with a variety of local agencies joining in to provide fun activities for families as well as information on local support services. The project hosted a large number of activities, parenting classes, parent & child workshops and counselling sessions for parents and their children within each school. These included the ‘Time for Parents’ Support and Counselling service and ‘Time for Me’ informal listening and signposting sessions and Time Together for the parents and their children. Families Together ran a variety of free parenting workshops for participating schools. These topics ranged from subjects such as Relaxation, Handling Children’s Behaviours and Healthy Choices. The programme ran numerous child workshops, a Parenting Café for parents to informally meet one another and a highly successful Walking Group.
One of the school principals remarks on the programme;
“I am struck by the diversity of needs and parents being engaged – not just those who are always targeted because of high needs, but also fathers and people of different social backgrounds. This is de-stigmatising.”
Over the 5-year duration of the project, the engagement of the schools and families involved in the programme has grown significantly. This has been particularly noticeable with families who lacked confidence in their parenting ability and self-esteem. Parenting NI, AMH New Life Counselling and the Families Together Project are delighted to celebrate all the great work and engagement the parents, families, children and the teachers in each school have brought to the project over the past five years.
One parent remarked on the programme:
“It’s like a wee lifeline. A good experience – brilliant and highly recommended. I’m definitely more confident as a parent and I have a better support system.”
A principal remarks on the project;
“It’s hard to imagine the school without them – they’re part of the school now and an important part of our annual pastoral action plan.”